As Christians around the world were being called on to pray for 33 people reportedly facing execution in North Korea for their alleged involvement with a foreign missionary, a new film that dramatizes the stories of "secret Christians" living under the oppressive regime is being lauded for its powerful presentation.
The plot of the film, "The Apostle: He Was Anointed by God," revolves around a character named Chul-ho (Kim In-kwon) "who wants to lead villagers across the river to China and from there to South Korea. He, his family and friends, face varying degrees of terrorism by North Korean soldiers, some of them glad to accept bribes, others promising to get tough against dissidents in their midst," explains a review of the Korean-language film on Forbes.com.
Actor Kim In-kwon, who plays the part of the God-sent apostle in the film, is a Christian, according to the Korea Joongang Daily, and initially hesitated about taking on the role.
"When I read the script, I wanted to look the other way," said Kim during a press conference to promote the film. "It was deep, heavy, and I wondered whether there was a point in telling the tale of those North of the DMZ, especially a tale that is so sad."
After a night of wrestling with the project, Kim finally contacted the director, Kim Jin-moo. "All things considered, I decided to say yes," said the actor.
According to "The Apostle" Director Kim Jin-moo, most of the film's staff were either Christians or North Korean activists.
He reportedly spent an entire year doing research and interviewing defectors, activists and underground church members for the film.
"Just as there are movies that entertain, there should be films that depict real life," the filmmaker said. "People may find it disturbing, but I think those who witnessed the horror are often the ones that can lead the change."
Baek Kyung-yoon, a former North Korean female army captain who escaped the country 14 years ago, told Reuters ahead of a United Nations review on the country's human rights violations that "loyalty (to the regime) is everything." Baek's story of ordering the torture of a Christian for possessing pages from the Bible was featured in "The Apostle."
"For those who worry about the fate of unknown tens of thousands of secret Christians in North Korea, this is a powerful film with a believable story," continues the Forbes review.
"The Apostle," lauded by human rights activists, will be screened at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 17, as well as for the British Parliament from March 18 to 20.
Reuters reports, citing independent estimates, that more than 200,000 people are believed to be held in North Korean prison camps.
The Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported last week that a source had revealed that the North Korean government planned to punish 33 people for allegedly attempting to overthrow Kim Jong Un's regime by accepting money from a Christian missionary to organize 500 underground churches.
The missionary, a South Korean Baptist named Kim Jung-wook who was arrested last year, apologized for "anti-state crimes" last week in a public press conference.
North Korea's human rights record was recently scrutinized by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry which concluded in a lengthy report that the country's documented torture and abuse of citizens was unparalleled "in the contemporary world."
American Christian Kenneth Bae has been in North Korean custody since 2012 and was sentenced last year to 15 years in a hard labor camp for acts deemed threatening to the state. The government, meanwhile, recently released 75-year-old Australian Christian missionary John Short, after he allegedly apologized for anti-state religious acts and asked for forgiveness.
Read more about Christians in North Korea, ranked by Open Doors as the world's no. 1 persecutor of Christians: See Where Tens of Thousands of Christians Suffer Daily for Refusing to Worship a 'False God.'